Entries Tagged 'Productivity' ↓

Hourly workers on five or more social networks sstay longer and sell more in less time

hourly-productive

Add this to the mountain of evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom that employees’ use of social media is a drain on productivity: Among hourly workers, those that use five or more social networks are more productive and better at handling customer transactions.

These results come from a study from Evolv, which “harnesses the power of big data predictive analytics and machine learning to uncover the inefficiencies that undermine the performance of global workforces.”

According to the report, employees that are engaged in five or more social networks have a 1.57% higher sales conversion than their peers, and handle customer transactions in 2.76% less time.

“The fact that they’re better at handling customer interactions may stem from the fact that they’re inherently more social people,” the report says.

The study also suggests that hourly workers using social networks will stay longer with the company — 92 days compared to 83 for those who don’t use social networks at all. Interestingly, workers using between one and four social networks stay 94 days, two days longer than the five-or-more crowd.

I’d love to point you to a copy of the report, but it’s not on the Evolv website. I first read it in an April 2 Mashable piece by Chris Taylor. There was no link to the report, though, so I spent a fair amount of time on the Evolv website, where a number of studies and reports are available, but none containing this data. I got in touch with the company directly, and the second representative I corresponded with sent me a one-page PDF with the data.

Whatever. The data reinforces a multitude of studies that offer other reasons access to social media drives rather than dampens productivity, like this one from McKinsey & Co., which sees a 20-25% productivity boost when employees use social media, and the unlocking of $1.3 trillion in annual value.

Or this one from Deloitte that argues social media is better than any other means for workers to address “exceptions” in their work.

Taking a different approach is this one, from the University of Melbourne, which demonstrated results similar to studies conducted by MindLab and Singapore National University.

And these are just a few of the studies not funded by companies that sell services to block or monitor employees that show the value of employees engaging in social media.

Rejoice! Employee use of social networks has tripled!

Palo Alto Networks is out with its annual numbers on employee work time spent on social networks. The company’s conclusions are based on analyzing raw data from 1,600-plus companies for a seven-month period last year. Their press release on the study confirms something we already suspected: “explosive growth in global social networking and browser-based file sharing on corporate networks, with a 300 percent increase in active social networking. (e.g., posting, applications) compared with activity during the same period in the latter half of 2010.”

The press release quotes the company’s CMO, René Bonvanie, saying “Whether or not employees are using social networks or sharing files at work is no longer a question; this data clearly demonstrates that users are embracing and actively using such applications.”
But, since network security is Palo Alto Networks’ business, the conclusion Bonvanie reaches is that you’d better watch out because productivity and network security are at risk. So the reporting of the study will serve mostly to encourage the lockdown of social channels at work. That conclusion, as far as I’m concerned, misses the point entirely.

In fact, a tripling of employee access to social networks is a cause for celebration, not panic.

For example, the numbers point to widespread adoption of Twitter at work. Nobody’s playing Farmville on Twitter, but we know from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” that professional peer groups have moved from proprietary networks to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s likely that a lot of the tweeting going on from work is work-related.

In 2010, the bandwidth consumed by employees for Faceboook apps, social plugins and posting was 5 percent. In the new study it has risen to 25 percent. isn’t it interesting, though, that Palo Alto Networks includes “posting” as one of the activities driving the increase.

The numbers also point to file sharing sites as the source of a lot of bandwidth consumption. Of course, posting to and visiting Slideshare and Scribd, for instance, are good things, not something to worry about. These are places where knowledge is transferred.

The reason workers are using social networks is, in large part, that these channels are increasingly becoming a routine part of how work gets done. Yes, I understand that some people abuse their access and that companies need to address concerns over the introduction of viruses and other infections, but these issues need to be addressed without hamstringing the bulk of the population that uses social networking to improve their productivity and the company’s performance.

Social channels is exactly where employees need to be, given the results of Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer, which was released today. According to the Executive Summary

(As trust in CEOs dropped, trust in) “a person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with the biggest increase in credibility since 2004, and now trails only academics and technical experts. Regular employees jumped from least credible spokesperson to tied for fourth on the list, with a 16-point record rise. Social-networking, microblogging, and conte-thsaring sites witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company, rising by 88, 86, and 75 percent, respectively.These results alone should make it clear that a tripling of employee engagement in these channels bodes very, very well for companies.

If you need more evidence that this is just the way people communicate, there’s another report from ReadWrite Enterprise that wonders whether dumping email as a channel for employee-to-employee communication might just make sense. One of the reasons online veteran David Strom cites is that, “as social media becomes more prevalent, it becomes easier to have conversations in the public eye, or at least on the corporate Intranet.” He lists activities like posting questions and replies in these channels.

There are other shifts leading to email’s demise –- the shift to mobile, and that IM, group chats and other technologies work better. Of course, email between the company and anyone outside the organization would remain a regular communication tool.

But Strom’s post reinforces the point that we’re using social nertworks at work as an important part of getting the job done because it’s just more efficient. That’s what technology is supposed to do. Of course, there are organizations that get this. CNN Money profiled nine companies from the list of the best companies to work for that have added social networks to the workplace. For example, Intuit’s @TeamTurboTax draws upon product managers and engineers to tackle customers’ problems. Intuit says that when the tax season comes around, employees throughout the pipeline volunteer to contribute to the effort to respond to customersk. So, would all those posts be counted in the Palo Alto Networks’ “posting” data? And if so, that kind of traffic needs to be viewed as a company advantage,something to be nurtured, not a cause for locking down the organization.

I posted an item to my blog last week praising Zappos for its handling of the server security breach. One of Zappos’ actions was to send an email to customers. A few of the few commentsto my post came from people who hadn’t gotten that email. It didn’t take long before someone from Zappos left a comment that apologized, explained that the emails are going to tens of million of customers in batches and that took a while. He then let everyone know what to do without waiting for the email. He signed his comment, “Jonathan, random Zappos employee.” Again, these are legitimate work-related purposes to which these channels are being used. I’d start training employees to do more of this, not make it harder.

But Palo Alto Networks has an incentive to put its view out there as a press release that’ll find its way into the inbox of a lot of executives, and that’s why you’ll continue to see companies blocking employee access, like the more than half of companies in Ireland do.

Finally, remember the Altimeter Group’s social media preparedness study, which points out that companies that train their employees on policies and practices experience a far lower risk of problems arising from social media than those that bolt the doors.

If your employees aren’t among those whose use of social media at work has tripled, you have a reason to be concerned. Your competitors that understand that shift in work processes are primed to kick your ass.

I initially reported on this story on today’s episode of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report.” It is cross-posted from my primary blog at holtz.com

Another study distorts the cost of employee social networking

Shame on CBS Radio News.

On its June 23 6 p.m. (EDT) top-of-the-hour newscast, CBS reported on the results of a study that indicate Facebook and other social networking sites are costing companies lost worker productivity.

I dashed home to find the source of the report. What I found was a month-old study that focused on all manner of workplace distractions. In fact, email processing and switching windows to complete tasks both ranked higher as sources of distraction (33%) than social media activities (20%).

Yet CBS didn’t bother to point this out, which undoubtedly led hundreds of business leaders to contact their IT departments to make sure employees didn’t have access to these sites.

CBS also didn’t explain why they were reporting now on a study USA Today reported back on May 18.

There are issues with the study as well, which reports that the hour spent each day on distractions accounts for “$10,375 of wasted productivity per person annually,” which translates to $10 million per year for a 1,000-employee company.

Which is hogwash.

After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 1.8 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2011…The gain in productivity reflects increases of 3.2 percent in output and 1.4 percent in hours worked.

It’s a bit disingenuous to claim declining productivity in the face of evidence that American worker productivity continues to rise.

The study also doesn’t bother to acknowledge that most employees don’t put in a traditional eight-hour day. In the U.S., according to a UN study, 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. A 2006 study from Lexmark found that knowledge workers as a whole put in an average of five hours per week in excess of what the job requires, and well over half take work home with them. I’d bet real money that those numbers have increased in the intervening half-decade.

Simply put, you can’t claim lost productivity based on time spent on distractions without accounting for the total number of hours worked both at home and away. This study did nothing of the sort. Most don’t.

But the study goes even further when it claims that distractions by email, phone calls and chats with colleagues result in lost productivity. Really? Even if those calls and chats are work-related? Even if they result in accomplishment of tasks and achievement of business goals? The study made no effort to distinguish what percentage of those distractions were work-related.

Even worse, the top method companies have implemented to address these distractions is blocking of access to social networks (48%), even though social networking doesn’t come anywhere near email as the top source of distraction. Nowhere does the study try to determine if any of those online social activities bring any benefit to the employer (such as recruiting or brand ambassadorship).

It’s sad that the study presents so much distorted information, since some of the findings can be genuinely useful. For example, two-thirds of workers interrupt group meetings to communicate with someone else, mostly by email or answering a cell phone call (together these account for 83% of in-meeting interruptions). The study also attempts to quantify the impact of distractions, which include difficulty focusing on work, lack of time for deep or creative thinking and missed deadlines.

But as long as companies continue to use back-of-the-envelope calculations to heighten unreasonable fear of social networking, and media outlets like CBS Radio News continue to spotlight the sensational rather than the factual, companies will continue to dismiss the benefits of employee social networking and implement policies that can be worse than the problems they’re designed to fix.

Cross-posted to Holtz Communication + Technology

My Blogworld presentation: Why CEOs Should Love Open Employee Access to Social Media

Please keep in mind that this presentation was designed to serve as speaker support and was not intended to be a standalone presentation.

With open access, employees can become valued content curators

After not too long a wait since submitting my request, I got an invitation to set up a Storify account. Storify bills itself as “a way to tell stories using social media such as Tweets, photos and videos.” It is, in fact, a content curation tool. You set up a story on any theme you like, then find just about any kind of content available on the Net and move it into a timeline over which you have complete control.

Beta account holders have set up Storify stories on the role of social media in the Middle East, Charlie Sheen’s first tweet, and a variety of other topics. I’ve already reported on NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin’s use of Storify to manage the information he accumulated from long-cultivated resources in the Middle East — in tweets, blog posts, videos, and photos — as his resource for reporting on the uprising in Tunisia, all from the comfort of his Washington, D.c.-area home.

If you want more information on Carvin’s use of Storify, Burt Herman has (of course) created a Storify story covering it. It’s also covered on the Storify blog.

I’ve started my first Storify story on why companies should open network access to social media for employees. You can find it on Storify.

As I’ve worked with Storify (which is staggeringly easy to use), it has occurred to me that employees can create amazing Storify stories. To begin with, they can collect new and archived information about their areas of subject matter expertise. I can envision Storify stories about the latest innovation in certain scientific endeavors (useful in a pharmaceutical company, for example), recruiting practices, engineering techniques, the list goes on. The value of these curated “stories” comes from applying their judgment to a collection of content that filters through the clutter in order to provide meaningful and timely information to colleagues and peers.

Product managers can keep track of the most relevant and interesting reports about brands. Even employee communciations managers can collect the most interesting tweets, blog posts and other social content about the company to help employees understand how the public perceives them.

The fact that these collections would be available to the broader public isn’t an issue, since it’s simply a filtering of content that is already accessible to everyone. Yet by embedding the stories on the intranet, the colleagues of these volunteer curators become the primary audience for their efforts.

Storify is just one of a flood of new curation tools hitting the market, any of which engaged employees could use to help their co-workers digest only the most relevant, important content from the web. Of course, employees in most companies would be stymied from even making the attempt because their employers block access to social channels.

The reasons for blocking are as overblown as ever, but the pace with which useful, usable tools are emerging that benefit the organization is gathering steam. Smart organizations will harnass these tools and their employees’ passions to make online information more meaningful, resulting in the achievement of core organizational objectives from improved customer satisfaction to larger market share and higher earnings.

The stupid companies will just keep blocking.

(This item is cross-posted from my primary blog.)

Is social media “stupid and vainglorious?”

In response to the last post, challenging Barclay Communications’ rationale for blocking employee access to social media, a blogger named Jeremy Probert, on the wordmonger’s blog (lower case is his, not mine), declared social media to be “stupid and vainglorious.” He wrote:

It’s been a long time, gentle readers, since I came across something that deserves an award for its icky, sticky, company hippy nature, its inherent stupidity and intellectual laziness and its truly horrible smug and self-satisfied tone. But today is the day – it chills my very soul to introduce this, the Stop Blocking website and it disheartens me even further to link to this, a piece entitled ‘Demolishing Barclays Communications’ Blocking Argument Point-by-Point’.

At first, I dismissed this as just another business pundit whose worldview hasn’t shifted since “The Organization Man.” But Jeremy does make points that are worth addressing debunking.

Most of Jeremy’s challenges are based on the fact that he read just this post, and didn’t bother with the rest of this blog where his arguments have been addressed repeatedly. Still, there’s nothing wrong with reiterating and reinforcing these points (which Jeremy generously calls “idiocies”):

Apparently, all workers, regardless of status or paygrade, put in extra hours and therefore compensate for any time that they may waste using social networks. Of course they do. In the same way that they all love the company that they work for, its senior management and its brands

We’re mostly talking about information and knowledge workers. And no, not every one of them put in extra hours. However, there is clear evidence from substantial, empirical, comprhensive research that Millennials do. As for those who don’t (and this point will re-emerge repeatedly), clearly communicated and enforced policies will deal with abuse.

Monitoring and addressing productivity is a supervisor’s job, not a IT’s. The consequences of blocking everybody as a means of addressing problem workers is a great way to kill engagement and drop employee trust to zero. As American Express’s vice president of communications James Lynch said yesterday at the Ragan Social Media Summit here at SWIFT headquarters in Belgium, blocking access is not a smart risk-mitigation strategy.

By the way, I’m a believer in public execution. Reward and recognition are the only way to drive culture and behavior change in organization. Announcing to the entire organization that an employee was terminated for violating the company’s policy can do more to keep employees on the straight and narrow than blocking policies that employees can override as easily as pulling out their smart phones.

Productivity suffers if employees can’t connect to social networks at work (thanks, University of Melbourne!). Apparently use of social media ‘resets an employee’s concentration’. How DID we manage to concentrate before?

First, the University of Melbourne didn’t produce the only study to reach this conclusion. Independently, for example, MindLab International conducted research that arrived at the same results. Jeremy can sniff at these results all he likes, but until he can produce research results to the contrary, I’ll continue to point to these studies.

As for how we managed to concentrate before — we didn’t. A colleague of mine — who manages a team at a global consulting firm that produces technology solutions — told me he and his team are under intense pressure to produce a high number of billable hours. Yet after five or six hours of continuous work, concentration slides so badly that work produced after that needs to be redone, so the pressure to put in the hours becomes counterproductive. And he lauds his team as the cream of the coding crop. It’s just, he says, that at a certain point without breaks, concentration declines.

If anyone believes that the workers sitting in rows of desks begins supervised by stern overseers to make sure they didn’t waste time were more productive than today’s workers who do take breaks and visit their online communities is simply deluded.

Because the US Department of Defense has opened its networks to social media, does not mean that LargeCorp Industries LLC (in the business of profit, not homeland security) should – it’s not a question of risk from cyber-attack, it’s a question of perceived need and value. (In any case, I would ask whether the ‘private in the field in Afghanistan’ is free to change his status willy-nilly (‘Safe behind a wall’ to ‘In a ditch with blast concussion’) or to share any sort of geographic or temporal information)

Jeremy, I have to ask if you read Barclay Communications’ argument at all. The very point they made is that opening networks to social media puts networks at risk to cyber-attack. That was their entire point. That’s what I was responding to.

And no, Jeremy, of course not: The Department of Defense, once it decided that social media was a “field of maneuver” rather than a “fortress to be defended” implemented training to ensure soldiers kept both themselves and the unit safe. As DoD senior strategist Jack Holt put it, the military teaches soldiers to be safe in the desert, on the seas, in the skies; they can train them to be safe online. Should you be interested, Jeremy, you can listen to my interview with Jack here or his interview with Eric Schartzman here.

Clearly, I never suggested that companies should simply open their networks. They need to implement policies and guardrails so employees can protect both themselves and the company, and the organization can ensure that they reap the benefits of employees’ online activities while mitigating the risks.

(Doesn’t all of this just sound like common sense? Somehow this escaped Jeremy. Sadly, he’s not alone.)

Company ‘confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator’. True – but your average elevator holds 12 people and Facebook holds a potentially eavesdropping audience of 450 million. Go figure

I’m not aware of any Facebook account with 450 million friends. Are you? And a privacy violation is a privacy violation. The HIPAA fine won’t be any larger for violation on Facebook than it would be for a violation in an elevator.

The point is that closing off access to Facebook doesn’t solve the problem; educating staff about privacy does.

Of course, Jeremy ignores the rest of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO’s larger point: blocking Facebook shuts down the ability for employees to build community, and it closes off the communication channel of preference among younger employees. Paul notes that he often gets useful suggestions and ideas from employees who don’t use email. (If you have children who are teens or in their twenties, you know this.)

‘Many employees carry smartphones – or they can (access social media) from home after work’ – again, true. But what they do on their own time is their own business – unless it contravenes company policy on how they may represent themselves as employees, or the laws of the land – in which case they get fired. In the workplace – well, the clue is in the name – ‘work’place. Not ‘fun’place or ‘do-your-own-thing’place

I am frequently accused (as Jeremy does) of being some kind of employee rights advocate. I’m not. I’m a business advocate. Understanding that Millenials (and, to a great degree, GenX) operate in what they call the “weisure” world — the cross-over of work and leisure — is vital. Work happens where it makes sense, whether it’s in an office or at the beach. Why? Because they have grown up as hyperconnected individuals where proximity is not required for work to be done. The idea that proximity is a requirement for knowledge/information workers is a relic of the era from which Jeremy has failed to move.

A study noted by American Express’s Lynch noted than39% of Millennial employees won’t work at companies that block Facebook — or will leave if a new block is implemented. That’s not because they want to have fun, but because Facebook is how they communicate and collaborate. Consider, for example, the results of the study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” conducted by SAP in conjunction with the Society for New Communciation Research (SNCR). The study found that organizational decision-makers who have access to their social media peer groups make better and faster decisions. Where, primarily, do those professional peers reside, according to the study? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Seventy-six percent of those professionals visit these networks once or more per day, where they…

  • Access thought leadership and information unavailable inside the walls of the company
  • Showcase the company (building brand recognition and supporting organizational goals from recruiting to sales)
  • Increase the speed of collaboration
  • Research business decisions

Another study showed that 40% of IT professionals use social networks to seek advice from peers on technology purchases. Clearly a stupid and vainglorious activity.

As for the whole “fun” thing, no, the workplace doesn’t need to be fun. But employees do need to be engaged (which means they make discretionary effort on the company’s behalf). Companies with large populations of highly engaged employees produce greater growth by far than others. It’s hard to imagine engaged employees in organizations where the first message they hear is, “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.” It’s also hard to imagine companies blocking access showing high levels of job satisfaction.

As for “do your own thing,” perhaps you’ve heard of a concept called “innovation.” Google practices it, with employees required to spend a certain amount of time innovating based on their own ideas. Have you checked Google’s valuation lately? I’d also point you to the book “Empowered,” by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, which promotes the idea that employees “own thing” ideas of how to use social media to better serve customers can produce a significant marketplace differentiation.

‘If normal use of bandwidth (this refers to employee use of social media) is slowing (your) network to a crawl, get more bandwidth.’ Just go to your finance guys and ask them to approve an increase in your budget, to purchase bandwidth to allow your employees to update their Facebook statii. That’s bound to work. Job done

Jeremy, please allow me to introduce you to the notion of “making a business case.” This concept involves demonstrating that the investment will produce results that exceed the cost.

All of this is hopelessly Utopian – the ideals of an imaginary world where everyone is nice, contented, loyal and trustworthy. Well, here’s the wake-up call. They’re not, and you need to bear that in mind when thinking about social media use in the workplace.

If your hiring practices result in bringing in employees who don’t embrace the preferred culture of the organization, that’s your fault. You can dismiss all this as “utopian” all you like, but companies like Cisco Systems and zappos.com seek culture fits above all else in their recruiting, and they reap the benefits. Hiring people you don’t trust is an archaic practice. If you engage in it, you have nobody but yourself to blame. To suggest that it’s simply not possible is nothing more than lazy.

Social media is wasteful and vainglorious.

First, this seems odd coming from somebody writing on his blog. But still…

This is the lynchpin statement that showcases the author’s stupendous ignorance. I hear it repeatedly from people who have not made the slightest effort to explore the research that proves precisely the opposite. General Motors is selling cars by allowing employees to talk about their driving experiences on Facebook from work. Sprint is solving customer problems it identifies through employee volunteers on Twitter. Best Buy is driving customers to its stores via 2,500 employees who answer consumer product questions posed on Twitter — from the floor store. Home Depot’s staff can produce videos or test results to respond to home improvement questions posed through social media channels. Through the employees’ social networks, companies are improving recruiting, identifying competitive intelligence, sourcing subject matter expertise, obtaining training…the list goes on.

There are thousands upon thousands of case studies, and hundreds of research studies, that prove the stupidity of such throwaway statements as “social media is wasteful and vainglorious.” The simple fact is, supported by policies and processes, employee engagement in social media can drive growth and profitability.

What is stupid and vainglorious is leaders who dismiss social media despite the avalanche of quantifiable evidence to the contrary.

Demolishing Barclay Communications’ blocking argument point by point

An article by Barclay Communications appearing in a tech publication from Northern Ireland is strident in its insistence that blocking employee access to Facebook is a requirement in the face of so much risk.

“According to a recent MyJobGroup study, over half of the UKs workforce could be trying to check and update their social networking sites in work,” the article asserts. “As a result social networking has become one of the biggest and most dangerous time wasting activities in the workplace.”

With glee, I’m going to destroy every argument Barclay’s IT services manager, Stephen McPeake, makes. After all, the four “biggest risks” McPeake cites are exactly the four I’ve been shooting down for the last couple years. (In fact, I’m developing an 11-part video series that covers these — along with the benefits organizations can accrue from employee engagement in social networks — that I’ll upload to YouTube as I complete them.)

Productivity

McPeake says: “Consider an employee on minimum wage, working an 8 hour day, but wasting two hours of that on social networking. In the end that one employee could cost a company up to £3,000 a year in lost working hours.”

True enough, if that employee…

  • Only puts in eight hours in the office. He doesn’t come in early, he doesn’t stay late. He clocks in at 8 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m.
  • Never works away from the office. He never takes a conference call, responds to email, or does any other work at home, at the beach, at the park, on vacation. Increasingly, this is a ridiculous assertion, particularly as the Millennial generation enters the workforce with its concdept of “weisure” — the blending of work and leisure both in the office and at home.
  • Engages in online activities that produce absolutely no value to the organization, such as evangelizing product, sharing competitive intelligence, or seeking subject matter expertise that can’t be found inside the organization.

The fact is, productivity stands to suffer if employees can’t connect to Facebook or other networks. The University of Melbourne has produced research that shows productivity increases 9% among employees who are able to acccess the Net for fun during work. That’s better research than the insipid back-of-the-envelope calculation McPeake (and his ilk) has produced.

But productivity from the use of Facebook goes beyond the Melbourne rationale — that spending some time on the Net for fun resets an employee’s concentration, bolstering his ability to get work done efficiently. Last month, a Gartner representative predicted 20 percent of employees will use social networks rather than e-mail as their business communications hub by 2014. Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also sees the importance of Facebook as a channel of staff communication, writing that blocking Facebook “creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20′s and 30′s who tend not to use email.”

So much for productivity. Let’s move on to McPeake’s second risk:

Attacks from hackers

MckPeake says: “Social networking is one of the newest and most effective ways for hackers to gain entry into peoples’ computers. They pose as trusted friends or connections and then send you a private message recommending a site, video or link. Since they are your ‘friend’ you think nothing of viewing, opening or even downloading whatever they are recommending.”

Tell it to the Marines, Mr. McPeake. After all, this past February U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a directive opening social networks on all of the Department of Defense’s networks, enabling everyone from a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a private in the field in Afghanistan to participate on Facebook and other social channels. The rationale was simple: The DoD decided that the Net was a field of maneuver, not a fortress to be defended. (That’s my favorite metaphor for this whole issue, by the way.)

So how does the DoD protect its network from hacker attacks? After all, whose networks require stronger security than the military’s? Multiple approaches are taken, including strong network protection from infection. According to my contacts in the DoD, there hasn’t been a serious infection since the decision to open the network so soldiers and staff can participate in social networks.

If the U.S. Military can do it, so can your organization.

Frankly, Mr. McPeake’s recommendation to shut down access is nothing more than the easiest, laziest way to protect a network. It’s (obviously) not the only one.

So with network security behind us, it’s time to shift gears and address Mr. McPeake’s third risk:

Data Leaks

The article points to multiple instances of employees compromising intellectual property using social networks, then points out: “Last month many German companies, such as VW and Porsche were so afraid that their employees would give away trade secrets and be less productive with social networking sites that they completely blocked them.”

The stupidity of this argument is so deep it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s start with Beth Israel’s Paul Levy who, in the same post cited above, notes that confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator. Employees don’t need Facebook to do it. That reminds me of the instance of the Coca-Cola employee who stole a vial of liquid and some papers from a filing cabinet and tried to sell them to PepsiCo (which, to its great credit, turned the employee in; she’s now doing time).

Facebook and other social channels are nothing more than one more channel through which company IP can be distributed — and it’s not much different than email, when you get right down to it. And let’s not forget that employees don’t need the company’s network in order to disclose IP. Many employees carry smartphones with access to social channels, or they can do it from home after work. Blocking access does nothing to stop this bad employee behavior. Training, education, and enforcement of policies will do far more.

And it’s also worth noting that Porsche, as clueless as its blocking effort is, opted to keep YouTube open because of the wealth of training material available through the video sharing network.

That leaves only one more argument from Mr. McPeake:

Slows a company’s internet connection

Barclays Communications argues, “Streaming videos, constantly updating news feeds, playing games and downloading pictures will utilise a large majority of a company’s broadband speed.”

Technically speaking, this is true. I know one hospital that reluctdantly locked down staff access to Pandora, the music streaming service, because so many people were using it and leaving it on all day that vital patient data was moving slowly through the network.

But consider the parallel situation 25 years ago when communication was largely print-based rather than digital. Did you ever here of one of those organizations proclaim that they wished they could send out an employee newsletter but, damn, they just didn’t have enough paper.

The notion is absurd. Companies bought enough paper to meet their communication needs.

Bandwidth is the paper of the digital age. If normal use of bandwidth is slowing the network to a crawl, get more bandwidth. It’s easy to make a business case for this bandwidth, particularly as organizations begin to recognie the substantial business value that exists when employees (adhering to policies) can access social media from work.

That’s business value to which Mr. McPeake is blind. Instead, he says, “We would recommend that you completely block social networking sites with a Firewall such as Smoothwall.”

Do you get the feeling Smoothwall is a Barclay Communications client?

In any case, my advice to Mr. McPeake is to stick with IT and leave business decisions such as these to people who understand that the risks he cites are no risks at all when properly addressed. You have to wonder if Mr. McPeake ever read a quote from Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, who has spoken widely about opening access for all BC employees. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.

And, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted, “Email as we know it will soon give way to a more fully networked form of communication, which companies will learn to adopt. The only question is whether they will do so early or late.”

It’s time to chuck recommendations and arguments like Mr. McPeake’s into the trash, where they belong, and begin looking ahead to the networked realities of the world of work.

The futility of blocking social media

Tuesday at Gartner’s Security and Risk Management Summit, research director Andrew Walls told attendees that although infosec pros may worry that social networking will lead to uncontrolled malware outbreaks, phishing, breaches of confidentiality and trade secrets, and even damage to the corporate reputation, trying to take control or even block its use is akin to monitoring employees’ home phone calls and rifling through their postal mail.

“All this message traffic is not in your infrastructure,” Walls said. “It all takes place out there in the cloud,” plus it can be accessed from anywhere, and users’ privacy settings can make monitoring nearly impossible. “At the root of it is staff productivity, and security isn’t responsible for monitoring and managing the productivity of the organization.”

Some believe social media represents a growing platform for malware distribution, but Walls countered that argument, noting that antimalware vendors he’s spoken with say social networks are being victimized by the same malware plaguing email and websites. “So if I’m going to block social media on the basis of malware distribution,” Walls asked hypothetically, “why not block email?”

via searchsecurity.techtarget.com

The article goes on at some length to chronicle Walls’ arguments against blocking social media in the workplace, even making a vital point that has been at the heart of my argument: Organizations will, he said, come to realize the value of hiring someone who possesses a vast social network. “The most valuable people,” he told the audience, “are going to be the ones who demand social media the most.”

The entire post is well worth your time particularly if you’re trying to make the case against blocking in your organization.

Open access is smart business, not an employee entitlement

Cross-posted from a shel of my former self.

At first, I shrugged off the semi-literate comment left to one of my posts over on Stop Blocking, the site I started to advocate for reasonable employee access to the Net, and particularly to social media sites.

The post to which “reason,” as he called himself left a comment reported on a study that showed 54% of companies were blocking access. Here’s his response:

isnt it funny in todays world how everyone thinks they deserve better than what they are getting without haveing to really work for it no job owes you facebook time so feel your rights are being taken for granted grow up you big baby work time is not your fun time so if you block your workers from facebook @ work dont feel that blocking reduces productivity and engagement, limits recruiting capabilities, and denies networking that ultimately benefits the organization. thats a bunch of crap do your job facebook dont pay your bills you lucky to even have a job.

I blew off the comment initially, relegating it to the “just doesn’t get it” dustbin. But I found the comment kept coming back to me, not because reason’s reasoning is right but because he seems to think that I’m advocating for employee rights in my efforts to get companies to stop blocking.

I’m not an employee rights advocate. If I were, very few of my clients would be interested in my services. My goal is to help organizations succeed. I’ve achieved my goals if companies are more profitable, more competitive, more nimble, more productive. I’m campaigning to get companies to open employee access to social sites because increasingly the networked connectivity of workers is driving competitiveness, productivity and other indicators of improved performance.

The fact is, through all my years working in employee communications, I’ve never been concerned with whether employees are happy. It’s not a company’s job to ensure employee happiness. Employee job satisfaction is another story. It’s tangible, it’s measurable and it has a direct bearing on employee engagement, which is a predictor of organizational growth.

But even job satisfaction is just one return a company gets from networked employees. Zappos encourages its employees to network on the job, resulting in a reputation for stellar customer service. Employees engaged in their social networks can also reduce the cost and improve the quality of recruiting. It can surface issues the company needs to address. It can generate ideas for new products and services. It improves employee productivity.

On that last note, productivity, I came across an item today on TMCnet sporting the provocative headline, “Workplace Productivity at an All-Time Low.” The press release touted the products of a company called Pandora — not the music streaming site, blocked by a number of companies — but rather one that “allows managers to analyze activities performed by employees and the time spent on different work items. It also affords the ability to track computer usage at a group and/or an individual level, cross-reference activities reported by an employee, and access an employee’s desktop in real-time.”

The all-time low productivity claim is based on this calculation:

On average, workers with an Internet connection spend 21 hours per week online while in the office, a little more than four hours per day. And on average, 26% of that time is spent on personal-interest websites. That amounts to roughly an hour per day, or 22 hours per month.

Pandora is just one of many companies that profit from the fear they produce with such outlandish claims. As I’ve repeatedly noted, these calculations don’t account for the benefits such networking brings to the organization, the improved productivity highlighted in a University of Melbourne study, or the amount of work these employees perform outside the 9-to-5 office hours because they’re networked. In fact, another story that crossed my desk today points out that companies in the UK were able to maintain productivity even as snowbound workers were unable to get to the office because their ability to connect with each other and the office let them get their work done from home.

And, as I’ve also noted before, these lost-productivity assertions don’t stand up to statistical scrutiny. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased in the third quarter of 2009 by 8.1%. That’s a far more credible number than the back-of-the-envelope calculations Pandora, Websense and other monitoring-and-blocking companies use in their scare campaigns. In fact, it reveals the productivity claims by these companies as an outright lie.

Yet these tactics continue to influence managers, as evidenced by the fact that most companies block access despite the fact that blocking is contrary to their own self interests.

Leaders need to realize that organizations that encourage their employees to network during work — guided by clear policies and improved business literacy — will experience success that eclipses that of organizations that block access.

It’s not a question of employee entitlements. It’s a question of smart business practices.

Canadian privacy commissioner opposes blocking after UK services company releases another misleading survey

While yet another completely bogus, self-serving studyhas assigned a completely unrealistic dollar amount to employee use of social networks on the job, an unlikely voice has arisen in opposition to blocking employee access.

Ann Cavoukian, the minister privacy commissioner for the Canadian province of Ontario, has called blocking employee access a mistake. According to an article in itbusiness.ca, Cavoukian said, “It’s like waving the proverbial red flag in front of your staff -– it’s almost a challenge to them to find a way around it.”

By itself, that wouldn’t lead most employeres to eschew blocking — after all, they may reason, employees who want to find a way around policies should simply be fired. But Cavoukian doesn’t stop there, noting that bans can often be counterproductive. For example, she said, finding a way to get to the sites they want to can actually take longer than just going to an unblocked site.

Cavoukian was speaking in the wake of a study released by Morse plc, a London-based company that makes money helping companies block employee access to site. Yep, another completely unbiased study by an organization with not self-interest wrapped up in the results.

Morse conducted its survey with 1,460 U.K. office workers. The results: 57% spend 40 minutes per day on average visiting social networks. That adds up to a full week each year, the value of which is, according to Morse, US $2.4 billion dollars in lost productivity.

Morse consultant Phillip Wicks called employee access to social networks “a productivity black hole.” Clearly he hasn’t seen — or has ignored — the unbiased reasearch that shows employees with access to social networks are actually more productive than those without it.

And, of course, the study doesn’t not take into account the hours these employees work in excess of the minimum eight-hour day, the amount of work they take home, and the amount of time spent on social networks that produces a benefit to the organization.

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in this assessment. According to Robin Wauters writing in TechCrunch Europe:

Maybe it’s just the concept of ‘business hours’ that isn’t something the new generation of office workers is apt at dealing with, considering they grew up living in a fragmented world where social media make up integral parts of their lives that cannot simply be turned off. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing or a management problem, but one thing it is most definitely not: the fault of Twitter or Facebook.

Or do you really think that guy next to you who spends hours staring at his Facebook news feed is suddenly going to be way more productive when the IT department blocks access to the site?

One more survey to ignore, move along now, nothing to see here.

(Hat tip to Tony Molloy for point out the TechCrunch Europe piece.)

Kudos to Cavoukian, who might also talk about another way in which blocking access is counterproductive: killing employee engagement leading to less enthusiastic and satisfied workers.

Kudos to Robin Wauters.

And to the self-serving, deceptive, methodology-challenged dolts at Morse plc: Fail.